Willmott’s Ghost, Renee Erickson’s first foray into Italian food, opens officially today in the Amazon Spheres.
At 40-ish seats, it's roughly the size of other places in Erickson’s Sea Creatures restaurant group. But she and business partner Jeremy Price say this undertaking posed a much bigger challenge, between a new style of food and Amazon’s desire that the restaurant be open from breakfast straight through to dinner.
The restaurant’s singular location brought a different aesthetic than the company's usual quaint, century-old buildings. (Unlike the lush engineered rainforest inside these three glass orbs, Willmott’s Ghost is open to the public, via a subtly marked door on Sixth Ave near Lenora.)
Thus, says Erickson, “we wanted to do food that we hadn’t done before.” She credits her time studying abroad in Rome for igniting her broader culinary awareness, and that city’s native pizza, rustic squares with seasonal toppings, seemed a good fit for a neighborhood that prizes speedy service and relatively inexpensive meals. While Willmott's Ghost is by no means a pizzeria, roughly half a dozen pizza options anchor the lunch and dinner menu. These might include a simple Margherita or broccoli, pesto, and olives, or mortadella with caramelized onions and Calabrian chili oil. Erickson says the pizza program included “lots of learning” most of it via Sea Creatures’ new in-house dough guru, Ben Campbell.
At dinnertime, the crescent-shaped room switches to table service and adds full-size secondi, like a rustic T-bone steak or clams with garlic and lemon gremolata. Erickson says dishes hew to traditional Italian combinations and ingredients; she and chef Marie Rutherford avoided French- or Northwest-tinged riffs. “There’s beauty in how simple Italian food is,” says Erickson. “If we’re trying to be too creative, we really miss out on the elegance of that.”
She and Price are particularly excited about the fritti menu, their more elegant take on happy hour. Price recounts a staff research trip to Sicily where the hotel staff revived everyone with fried bites and spritzes after a long day of travel. “It was one of those times where you feel the hospitality of the situation.” The version here (squid with lemon, fritto misto, the fried rice balls known as suppli…) comes with a menu of aperitivi and other Italian-leaning drinks.
Willmott’s Ghost will open at 8am, starting the day with coffee and housemade pastries like cornetti or pistachio custard bombolini, then serves food (and drinks) straight through until about 10. There’s no pasta on the menu—at least not yet. Eventually, says Erickson, the kitchen would like to add lasagna and perhaps even a tortello, essentially a plate-size ravioli filled with spinach and ricotta. (Crowds and the challenge of putting out an all-day menu probably preclude other forms of pasta.)
Also down the road: A patio. And reservations, which are forthcoming at willmottsghost.com.
To nobody’s surprise, the space is beautiful, filled with light and marble and circular high-backed booths. The interior filters Italy’s red-white-and-green tricolore into a most Ericksonian combo of soft pink, carerra marble, slatted, whitewashed wood, and deep marine green. Its namesake, botanist Ellen Willmott, sounds like a Keira Knightley movie just waiting to happen.
For now, Willmott's Ghost will be open Monday through Friday at 8am, and 4pm on Saturday. Apparently there's free parking evenings and weekends in Amazon's nearby Doppler and Day 1 buildings. Once the restaurant finds its rhythm, and now that neighboring cocktail bar Deep Dive is in full swing, the next item on the Sea Creatures agenda is fine tuning some of the restaurants the company acquired from Josh Henderson earlier in the year to fit in with Erickson's culinary universe.